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Non-magnetic materials reveal unique conductive properties

Posted: 27 Aug 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lanthanum aluminate? strontium titanate? magnetic material?

A team of researchers at the Ohio State University has shed light to the reason behind two semiconductors that exhibit notable properties. According to them, when lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate are layered together!two non-magnetic materials!they become conductive and magnetic.

Understanding how these two semiconductors interact at their interface could someday lead to a different kind of material!one that provides a single platform for computation and data storage, said Mohit Randeria, co-author of the paper and professor of physics at Ohio State.

"The whole question is, how can you take two materials which do not conduct electricity and do not have magnetic properties, make a sandwich out of them and!lo and behold!at the interface between them, charge begins to flow and interesting magnetic effects happen?" he said. "It's like taking two pieces of bread and putting them together and having the sandwich filling magically appear."

By making calculations and modelling the basic physical properties of both materials, Randeria's team has hit upon an explanation for the behaviour that seems ironic: the interface between two non-magnetic materials exhibits magnetism.

The team showed how the elemental units of magnetism, called "local moments," are formed at the interface of the two materials. They then showed how these moments interact with the conducting electrons to give rise to a magnetic state in which the moments are arranged in an unusual spiral pattern.

If the physicists' explanation is correct, then perhaps someday, electronic devices could be constructed that exploit the interface between two oxides. Theoretically, such devices would combine the computational abilities of a silicon chip with the magnetic data storage abilities of permanent magnets such as iron.

"If you had conduction and magnetism available in the same platform, it could be possible to integrate computer memory with data processing. Maybe different kinds of computation would be possible," Randeria said.

But those applications are a long way off. Right now, the physicists hope that their theoretical explanation for the strange magnetic behaviour will enable other researchers to perform experiments and confirm it.

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